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Home Front Hospitals: Marcus Ward's U.S. General Hospital

Home Front Hospitals: Marcus Ward's U.S. General Hospital

After the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861, it was clear that the war would be longer and more brutal than previously imagined. This reality was commonly experienced in battlefield hospitals - makeshift hospitals comprised of tents or borrowed houses that were overcrowded and unsanitary. In order to alleviate congestion and poor conditions, military hospitals on the home front were instituted. These hospitals were equipped with experienced doctors, modern medical supplies, and amenities such as bathing facilities and full kitchens. Soldiers who suffered from injury or illness (including gunshot wounds, gangrene, typhoid fever, malaria, tuberculosis, and camp diarrhea) were sufficiently treated and sometimes even had the convenience of being close to home. By the war’s end, 192 general hospitals existed in the United States. One such hospital was Ward’s U.S. General Hospital located in Newark, New Jersey.

Ward’s U.S. General Hospital opened in May of 1862. Named after its founder, Marcus L. Ward, a New Jersey businessman, governor, and advocate for soldiers and their families, it was one of three in the state (including those in Jersey City and Beverly) to accommodate sick and injured soldiers. Initially paid for by a loan secured by Ward from the state government, the hospital was located in a four-storied building between the railroad tracks and the Passaic River at the foot of Centre Street. This location made it easy for soldiers to be transported by car or by boat. When the secretary of war allocated additional funding in 1864, the hospital expanded into several factory and warehouse buildings east of Centre Street and had room for 1,400 patients. By the time the hospital was decommissioned in 1865, staff members had treated roughly 80,000 military patients.

Portrait of Marcus Ward, Governor of New Jersey, 1866 - 1869. Photographed Painting.

During the war, Ward became known as the “soldier’s friend” due to his commitment to the welfare of New Jersey soldiers and veterans. Besides opening Ward’s U.S. General Hospital, he also created the Marcus L. Ward’s Office for Soldiers’ Business, a private bureau that secured soldiers’ pay and allocated it to their families, and the New Jersey State Soldiers’ Home, a place where soldiers could recuperate after the closing of the hospital.

Alfred H. Buck. Journal of Military Service, 1862 - 1864.

A wartime journal belonging to Alfred H. Buck who served as a sergeant in Company H, Twelfth New Jersey Volunteers. Buck was wounded by a rifle shot to his shoulder on July 3, 1863 in Maryland. On August 24, 1863 he was transferred to Ward’s Hospital as an ambulatory patient. The displayed pages of this journal document Buck’s time at Ward’s Hospital - his wounds were dressed daily and afterwards, he was free to visit friends and family in Newark, New Jersey. Mainly, Buck passed many hours reading, studying, and writing letters. After six months of treatment, Buck’s wound healed and he returned to his regiment stationed in the Chesapeake area of Virginia.

Certificate of discharge for William H. Lewis, December 18, 1863.

Ward Hospital Bulletin vol. 1, no. 7, August 10, 1865.

The Ward Hospital Bulletin was an in-house newspaper written by staff members. Seven issues were printed between June and August of 1865 and its purpose was to both inform and entertain hospital inmates. This August 10th issue contains a series of updates regarding hospital statistics, rules and regulations for patients and visitors, and post office and religious service schedules. Additionally, there are several advertisements for local photographers and businesses including the Marcus L. Ward’s Office for Soldiers. Marcus L. Ward Papers